Thursday, October 11, 2012

Review of "Tangled Ashes" by Michele Phoenix

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Image source: http://michelephoenix.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/P5081421.JPG


This book is a serviceable read... and not much more. Granted, Michele Phoenix can string together two words- and quite well at that (I read the book fairly quickly, and with far less wincing that I though there would be given that this book is basically Christian chick lit). What fell flat here was really the plot. There are two story lines, a major one set in the present focusing on Marshall Becker, the alcoholic architect charged with updating the local castle for a rich Englishman, and his growing/tense/banter-filled relationship with Jade, the rich Englishman's nanny. The minor story line is set in [sigh] Nazi-occupied France at the same castle and involves two French maids hired to work at the "secret" Nazi baby factory set up in the same castle. The two stories finally collide at the end of the book. (I won't give any spoilers, not that there are many to give.)

The chief strength of this book is that it is well written. I sailed through it easily and with some level of enjoyment. Even more, while her faith clearly comes through, she's not preachy (much) about it. While there are ways to work your beliefs into a story organically (cf. Stephen Lawhead), far too many Christian authors fling it in your face, often at the expense of artistic value. Phoenix does not commit this crime, and even has some talent as a storyteller, she just needs a good story to apply it to.

The biggest problem I had with the book is, as I've been hinting at, the lack of a worthwhile plot. Through the 350+ pages of the story, there's really not enough tension or action or, well, anything to set the pace. In the hands of a less competent writer, this book would have been awful. In Phoenix's hands, it's just kind of meh. Having said that, I'll give her a tiny bit of leeway since in the author's note she reveals that the setting and the Nazi baby factory were both real (and where she grew up, see picture above). And that shows in the book- easily the best parts of the story were her descriptions of the setting. And while you can do a lot with setting, you can't carry an entire novel with it. (Just ask Mervyn Peake.)

So would I recommend this book? Well... maybe if you're one of those people who have decided that you are only going to read "Christian" books (please don't be one of those people) then yes, this is better than most of the tripe out there. So if you've restricted yourself to Amish fiction and books that have covers that would be Harlequin Romances if two or three articles of clothing were removed, then this book will likely be a step up and I suggest that you take up and read. On the other hand, there are a lot of books out there that you really could be reading instead, why not pick up one of those?

I received this book free from the publisher (or at least from a proxy marketer). They did not pay me or in any way require me to write a positive review. 


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